William Boyce was England’s greatest Baroque composer, writing odes and anthems for the royal court as well as songs for Drury Lane and London’s Pleasure Gardens. His influence was profound, not least as the publisher of a seminal edition of English church music. But what is his music actually like. If you’ve yet to delve into the 18th-century composer’s rich catalogue of music, here’s a guide to the best of it.
1. Eight Symphonys, Op. 2
Not a spelling error, we feel compelled to point out… Constant Lambert was a huge fan of Boyce’s symphonies, published in 1760. Unpretentious and direct in their appeal, these works aren’t so much symphonies in the traditional sense of the word, but a collection of previously-written overtures. They’re nothing short of delightful, Handelian in their musical breeziness.
Academy of Ancient Music/Christopher Hogwood
Decca 436 7612
2. Trio Sonatas
Boyce’s 12 trio sonatas are full of variety and colour – overtures, fughettas, little vivace movements… The original list of subscribers at the front of the collection included Handel, so presumably great things were expected. Boyce didn’t disappoint.
Collegium Musicum 90/Simon Standage
Chandos CHAN 0648
Boyce’s 12 Overtures appeared in 1770 and are fresh and fun, although they didn’t attract the same attention as the trio sonatas. Gerald Finzi was a fan, venturing to Oxford’s Bodleian in the 1950s to seek out more of them from the archives.
Chandos CHAN 6665(2)
Boyce can be seen holding the score to his serenata in his portrait, hanging in Oxford’s Bodleian library. Up until 1797, Solomon received a huge number of performances, but then silence up until 1948 when it was revived for an Oxford performance. The BBC recorded it for broadcast in 1979.
Bronwen Mills (soprano), Howard Crook (tenor), The Parley of Instruments/Roy Goodman
Hyperion CDA 66378
5. Peleus and Thetis
The origins of this enjoyable masque are shrouded in mystery, but it’s thought to date from before 1740 and the period when William Boyce produced several pieces of theatre music. Head to the striking trio ‘Bring me lightning! Give me thunder!’ – it seems very likely
that Boyce had in mind Handel’s trio ‘The flocks shall leave’ from Acis and Galatea.
Opera Restor’d/Peter Holman
Hyperion CDA 66935
It was the sudden death of George II on 25 October 1760 that prompted Boyce to start writing a whole series of anthems for the church. The first, ‘The Souls of the Righteous’ was written for the king’s funeral on 11 November. One of his finest anthems, ‘The King Shall Rejoice’, was written for the wedding of George III on 8 September 1761.
Choir of New College Oxford/Edward Higginbottom
CRD Records 3483